Evan Berney is the CEO of Carbiz. Headquartered in Baltimore, Carbiz is a vehicle dealership that provides customers with innovative ways to buy, sell, and trade used cars. The company allows shoppers to browse inventory and buy online, and offers complimentary one-year coverage, free delivery, and a five-day return policy. Carbiz is dedicated to giving back to the community through a partnership with ME to WE—a social enterprise that empowers consumers to change the world by making purchases and tracking their impact.
EDWIN WARFIELD: How did you get your start in the car business, and how were you able to grow Carbiz into what it is today?
EVAN BERNEY: I grew up surrounded by the car business. My dad was a new car dealer. He had purchased his Ford dealership off of his father, so it sort of was a multigenerational operation. By the time I got out of school, my dad had a year prior opened up what was a car lot at the time, and named it Carbiz. Its main focus was to be a small- to medium-scale large used car lot.
At the time, it was 2003, and the online classified sites were just getting started. Autotrader and Cars.com were the only two—today is a different landscape—but then it was the beginning of online marketing of cars. I give him all the credit—he was a visionary to see that this was the future. You had to get out there and start marketing yours cars differently than the traditional means of television advertising, which hadn’t gone away at that time and were still very apparent, but the real key to moving forward was marketing digitally. To do that, there are a couple of different facets that have to be taken into consideration. You had to create a brand around it. There were others out there that were marketing used cars, but to them it was more of a one-off and they would market their cars individually. There wasn’t really a personality to it.
What we did was, on our old facility, we had put up a mural that was a big painted on logo of our business. It had a sunrise and it was very pretty, and it was going to function as the backdrop of our vehicle listings whenever they were on the internet. We would put every car in front of this building and we would take these pictures in front of the car. You have to bear with me, because when I talk about it, it seems so dated even to myself, and this is 14-15 years ago, but at the time it was like innovative and revolutionary to a degree. We made a name for ourselves in the online classifieds community, and we became very consistent with our advertising: all the pictures always looked the same, and we sort of set the stage on how you should market your cars online.
The Autotraders, the Cars.coms—their sales reps would go around to other car lots, dealerships, and they would show them our pictures and they would say, “This is what you need to do. You need to make your cars have a personality. You need to create a brand for yourself and that’s how you need to market them.”
Alongside that, what allowed us to grow over the years to where we eventually got to today is on the fundamentals that the business does not just grow if you focus on one aspect of it; you have to couple it with—it sounds pretty sappy to say sometimes—good quality customer service, you have to sell a high quality car, and have to be very price conscious—you have to fit in the market where you your niche is.
From 2003 to probably 2007 was our growing years. We were growing at 25% year over year to eventually start averaging over 100 to 120 cars a month, which in Baltimore was unheard of for a used car operation. The only other business around us that would sell that type of volume was CarMax. And just to give CarMax their credit where due, lot of our motivations and aspirations came from CarMax. Their model, which was a very transparent model, the one-price model, the giving customers a very consistent process—we adapted a lot of those techniques and we have built on over the years.
The business has changed so much in the past three to four years, that we saw technology and software playing a much larger role than it had prior, from software that tells you where your car markets in the community amongst other cars, to software that allows you to complete transactions completely online. We look at ourselves as a company that tries to stay in front of all the trends, and that has allowed us to continue growth.
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